Living With Someone Who Is Mentally Ill: Interview with My Daughter

My daughter has seen it all. From her oceanic blue eyes in her cherub baby face to now, almost 12 years later. She is a remarkable child who has not only witnessed her mother’s hysterics (& panic attacks, drastic weight loss and days of not getting out of bed) but also her own diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My daughter, given the name Sophia Faye at birth, is the epitome of the meaning… “Wise Fairy”. Sophia is an old soul and understands so much for such a young person. Many words can be used to describe her but at the top of the list are definitely compassionate, empathetic, caring and loving. There are days I may miss her little toddling body and cheeky grins but I love watching her blossom into the amazing young lady she is today.

When I decided to do this interview series, I knew I had to interview her. I have not hid much from her. In fact 3 years ago I was so foregone I couldn’t. She learned about suicide at the tender age of 8 and questioned me often about it. She knows I grew to hate her as a newborn. I’ve always explained things to her in an age appropriate manner and often worried about her reactions but she has always listened, digested and never ever judged. I am amazed by her and couldn’t of asked for a better child.

Sophia’s Interview

Lounging in her preteen abode full of textured pillows and dozens of Stitch stuffed animals early in the evening, we both relaxed on her bed. There were many giggles beforehand as she pictured this interview as a video recording and not just a vocal recording. She was a little nervous, as was I, and we both tend to laugh a lot when we are nervous:

Me: How did you feel when I told you I grew to hate you when you were a baby?

Sophia: Fine.

Me: How come you were okay with it?

Sophia: Because I knew you didn’t mean it.

Concerning 3 years ago

Me: What did you feel and think when I left the house 3 years ago to stay with Bubbe & Grandpa (my parents) because Tyler (former foster son) was triggering me?

Sophia: I don’t remember that.

Me: It was only 3 years ago!

Sophia: Didn’t I come with you?

Me: You did.

Sophia: It was when he left?

Me: Yes.

Sophia: Oh, I mean, I was… I didn’t even notice anything was wrong with you. Like, I… I don’t really know. I felt fine because I didn’t know you were triggered.

Me: I left the house because I couldn’t stay there.

Sophia: But wasn’t I there too?

Me: I don’t think you came the first night.

Sophia: Oh. I don’t remember. I’m getting old!

Me (after rolling my eyes at that last statement): How did you feel when I admitted myself into the hospital?

Sophia: Scared.

Me: Did you know why I was there?

Sophia: No, I’m not sure. No.

Me: What did you think when you couldn’t visit me in the hospital and had to stay in the cafeteria with Grandpa?

Sophia: I wasn’t happy about it. I mean, I wanted to see you.

Me: You weren’t allowed to see me because they were worried about what the other people might say to you, what you might see.

Sophia: Oh, okay.

Me: Were you scared when I was released from the hospital?

Sophia: No, because I was happy you were going to leave and come home.

Me: You’ve been protecting me since the hospital stay. How come?

Sophia: Because I don’t want you to go back to the hospital.

GAD, PPD, Depression, & Suicide

Me: Do you blame me for your Generalized Anxiety Disorder and it is okay if you do?

Sophia: No.

Me: Do you blame anyone for it?

Sophia: No. Why would I?

Me: Do you wish you were ‘normal’?

Sophia: Sometimes.

Me: If you didn’t worry about the things you worry about?

Sophia: Sometimes, because sometimes it is good to worry.

Me: Do you fear you’ll have Postpartum Depression and Anxiety because I had it?

Sophia: Sometimes.

Me: Do you worry or fear you’ll have a Depressive Disorder because I have one?

Sophia: I don’t usually think about it. I guess, but that is only when I think about it.

Me: Do you know when I was first diagnosed (with Depression)?

Sophia: You were 14.

Me: And how old are you?

Sophia: I am 11.

Me: So you are close to that age.

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: That’s why I watch you a lot.

Sophia: That’s not creepy.

Me: Not in that sense Sophia. I’m not stalking you… Are you worried I will commit suicide?

Sophia: Very much.

Me: How come?

Sophia: You told me how you took that can cutter thing (a case cutter) and almost cut your hand off (almost slit my wrist).

Me: I was 18 then.

Sophia: So?

Me: That was 20 years ago.

Sophia: You also said that if you go off of medicine you’re probably going to want to commit suicide the next time you have an episode (of Major Depressive Disorder).

Me: Are you worried I will hurt myself?

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: Do you think there will be a next time?

Sophia: Yes, just because of events that can happen in the future.

Me: Like what?

Sophia: Like Bubbe & Grandpa dying or like the kitties dying and stuff.

Me: Do you think because of what I have been through that I am too overprotective with you about Mental Illness?

Sophia: Sometimes. There is no reason you should be.

Me: Do you understand why I am?

Sophia: Yeah. Because you don’t want me to get Depression and stuff.

Stigma & Advocacy

Me: What have I told you about stigma?

Sophia: What does stigma mean again?

Me: Hard to define but how people think the Mentally Ill are a danger to our society, that you should be hush-hush about it because people may not hire you, people may not want to be your friend, people don’t believe it is real.

Sophia: You’ve told me.

Me: And what do you think about that?

Sophia: I mean if that’s what they think, that’s what they think.

Me: Because you know that one of your grandparents thinks that way.

Sophia: Well, yeah, but…

Me: How do you feel knowing that you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and you have a grandparent that doesn’t believe it exists?

Sophia: Well, that’s what he can think.

Me: Do you understand why I advocate for this?

Sophia: What does that mean, advocate?

Me: Why I share my story. Why I try to teach others.

Sophia: Yes.

Me: Do you see yourself doing that?

Sophia: I don’t know.

Thoughts on Me, Her Mom

Me: Do you think I am a bad mother?

Sophia: No. Not at all. Why would I think you were?

Me: Do you ever wish you had a mother that wasn’t like this?

Sophia: No.

Me: Did you ever think I was a bad mother?

Sophia: No.

Me: How do you characterize your mother?

Sophia: Worried, anxious, fun, caring, loving, sometimes depressed.

Me: Do you always related Mental Illness stuff to your mom?

Sophia: Like different things other than Postpartum?

Me: Well I have had Depression since I was 14. There have been others thrown in there.

Sophia: When I think of Depression I don’t think of you as ‘Oh, she’s depressed’, I think ‘she is still alive and she is strong’.

Me: You see me as strong and a fighter?

Sophia: Yeah.

Me: What traits do you hope you get from me or do you see you already have gotten?

Sophia: I want to get your determination and your strength and sometimes your empathy because a lot of times empathy is good and I want your mental strength.

Me: Any last comments on me, your mother?

Sophia: I love her.

Me: Would you want any other mother besides me?

Sophia: No.

Me: How much do you love me?

Sophia: To infinity and beyond!

I am truly grateful for this kid!

Teaching My Daughter To Rise Above The Stigma Of Mental Illness

My daughter has seen me. She has seen me throughout her eleven years of life.  She has seen me lose touch with reality several times, seen me cry uncontrollably many times, seen me at a handful of Psychiatric and Therapy appointments.  She has even seen me become hospitalized.  Throughout all of this, she has stood by my side supporting me any way a preteen can.  She will get me my medication and water when I have an anxiety attack.  She will tell me she doesn’t want any other Mommy when I say she deserves better.  She fights the stigma behind Mental Illness for me to “infinity and beyond” (A Toy Story line that defines how much we love each other).

 

But, even with all that she does to help me, she falls victim to the stigma when it comes to herself.

 

My daughter was diagnosed at age 6 with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a diagnosis that she deserved even at age 4. She feared doctors or, honestly, anything medical.  She catastrophized thoughts in her mind constantly thinking that she could catch diseases such as Ebola and Rabies just by breathing it in.  While these medically induced anxieties faded through the years she still tends to get overwhelmed and will have minor Panic Attacks over things that she can’t control.  She is easily frustrated.  She cries. She’s a worrier, and a huge Empath like myself.

 

There have been several occasions where school was a trigger. When she started elementary school, they placed my daughter in the Special Friends program at my request.  It was a program dedicated to giving young children a place to relax for an hour and talk about their feelings.  I loved this program.  She aged out after 2nd Grade .  At this point we started therapy for her to learn coping skills for when anxiety attacks hit.  This helped for a while and she was able to stop therapy for a year or two.  Enter a few major life events, moving and entering Middle School, and her anxieties came back full force.  Insomnia set in.  Panic Attacks over homework became present and therapy sessions returned.

 

Through all of this, I have been her advocate. I do not want to see her suffer the way I have.  There was a brief discussion last year with the school nurse about possibly getting her further help, such as a 509 report, within the school system.  She had been sent home because she threw up.  The nurse knew right away after seeing my daughter through the years that this was related to her GAD, but due to the rules, I had to pick my daughter up and keep her home for 24 hours.  The nurse said that if this was in her file, she could return to school the next day bypassing the required 24 hours.  I thought heavily on this and suggested to my daughter that we get the school more involved.  Her response:

 

“I don’t want special treatment. There are kids that need it more.”

 

I respected that answer since the school year was almost over and we were switching school systems. She started Middle School and things were okay for a short period of time.  Then I noticed her getting heavily overwhelmed, crying and panicking.  I brought the subject of getting more help from the school with her again.  She hesitated and replied:

 

“I don’t want special treatment.”

 

I explained to her that it wasn’t special treatment. Her diagnosis, which is in her medical file at the school, would be more known so that if she did have further issues, she could receive the help she needed, whether it be visits to the school Psychologist or extra time on a test.  Then she started to tear up a bit and said, “No, I don’t want it.  The kids will make fun of me and my friends won’t like me anymore.”

 

Oh boy. Enter the Mental Health stigma.  Because I have been fighting it so long, the huge advocate in me came out and I may have reacted a tad too intimidating for an 11-year-old.  I was angry.  I thought the world has become slightly better with Mental Illness, but I was wrong.  I spoke, with a seething rage inside my head, sternly to my daughter:

 

“Do not feel that way at all. Do not, for one second, be ashamed of your diagnosis.  So, you have an Anxiety Disorder.  You have no idea what other kids at your school may have.  Most likely a few of your friends have one too.  All that, all that you just said, that is the stigma talking.  You do not have to hide like I did.”

 

She began to cry a little. She knew I was right especially after being such a support and advocate for me.  She nodded her head, apologized, and went upstairs.  I didn’t know if it really sunk in, the words I said until one afternoon she came home from school and was excited to show me a video she was working on in school in one of her classes.  I sat and watched the video and was so enamored and proud of this child.  Here she stood, in the crowded hallways of her school talking about her Anxiety Disorder.  She didn’t care if anyone heard her.  She spoke confidently about coping skills and therapy.  My daughter isn’t hiding anymore.  She’s kicking the stigma to the curb just like her mom.

When You Need To Discuss Sexual Harassment With Your Pre-teen Child

“Mom, I need to tell you something,” my daughter spoke as I started the car after picking her up from the YMCA yesterday, “but I don’t think you are going to like it.”

 

I love sentences that start this way. I had no idea what was going to come out of her mouth next.  Let’s just say I never ran the following as a possible scenario in my head.

 

She proceeded to tell me that a 7th Grade boy on her afternoon bus was going around talking about his two favorite words, thick and moist.  I knew instantly what was coming next as I am my father’s daughter and have always had a dirty mind.  She continued by saying that this boy then proceeded to ask all the girls on the bus if he made them moist.

 

Uh, what?! Did I really just hear that correctly?!

 

My daughter, a wise soul (after all her name means Wise Fairy), was disgusted. Somehow, she knew what he meant at her tender age of eleven.  She scrunched up her face and replied with a huge “No!” when he asked her.  But that response wasn’t enough for this kid.  He then wanted to confirm her answer by asking if he could look to make sure.

 

I was worried what her response would be to this. I have always been straight with her, not sheltering her from the realities of this world.  I was very proud when she said that she told him, “Heck no!”  I am raising her right.

 

I had to digest all this. I knew I would feel disgusted if someone asked me this and I am in my late 30s.  When we got home I was curious to see what her father’s response to this situation would be, hoping that some reaction would be given.  Knowing my husband, I knew I was asking for a bit too much.  He said that this is the age boys get disgusting and that our daughter responded correctly.

 

As the discussion progressed during dinner, more questions arose in me.

 

“Did the bus driver do anything?” My daughter responded with, “No.”

 

Excuse me?!

 

“She didn’t say anything at all?!” My daughter responded, “Nope.  Well, at one point she tried to change the subject, but that didn’t work.”

 

Okay, bus driver, I know this is not really in your job description, but please say something even if just to the school.

 

Did I mention that this bus aside from having the Middle School kids, also has 4th and 5th Graders?

 

I was torn with how to react. So obviously, I posted it on Facebook leaving it to the internet gods to come up with a solid solution.  Waiting for reactions to start pouring in, I pondered this event more and more and became more saddened by it.  Of course, the kids in Middle School are learning about their bodies and how their bodies react hormonally, I can’t prevent that, nor do I want to.  But this, this wording… While he thought he was being cool, it was just feeding the Sexual Harassment frenzy that has snowballed into an avalanche in the United States recently.  It isn’t right, this wording isn’t right.  What this boy did, as many on Facebook agreed, was Sexual Harassment.  These girls aren’t going to know yet to tell him to shut up.  Most are going to shy away from it and pretend it didn’t happen.  Worse yet, is a 4th Grader going to know to tell him no when he wanted to check if they were or weren’t “moist”?

 

I woke up and checked Facebook this morning. I was met with generally the same reaction… this is Sexual Harassment, call the school and the bus company.  While I want to jump at the phone and dial the school’s number, I am undecided what to say.  I feel awkward using the word “moist” (God, what a horrible word) when discussing this with the school authority.  I also have no idea what the child’s name is.  What am I going to say, “Some 7th Grade boy is asking the girls on bus 20 if he makes them moist”?  But, I do not want this to die away.  This is extremely relevant especially at this prepubescent age.  This is the age where girls and boys are learning about what their body can actually do.  They are learning about sex.  They are learning about their body’s reaction to sex.  They are feeling awkward about it.  I mean my daughter still plugs her ears and sings “La, la, la” when I even try to discuss what a menstrual cycle is.  I also know that they are coming upon an age where some of their friends will sadly begin to engage in sex.  All this, all this means, they are coming upon the age of being sexually harassed.

 

It is sad, sad to think that I need to discuss in further detail what Sexual Harassment is to my newly eleven-year-old daughter. It is sad that this boy feels he can talk this way and get away with it, especially with all the recent events (Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, etc.).  It is sad that now somewhere in my town a parent might have to discuss this with their nine-year-old 4th Grader.  How does one delicately explain it to a mere child?  How do you teach your child this is not right?  There is no required training in this like there is at work.

 

So here I sit, angry, disgusted, saddened and a bit confused wanting to hold on to the little girl that still resides in my daughter, but knowing that in this day and age, she needs to grow up at a younger age than I did.

What I Want My Daughter To Know On Her 10th Birthday 

My Baby Girl,

Today you turn 10, a decade old.  As I look at you, I see the baby face that I gave birth to and admire the preteen beauty you are now.  I am not sure when it actually happened, when you got to this point that toys were no longer an “in” thing for you, that make-up tutorials and Minecraft tutorials were now cool.  I am not sure when you decided to stop playing with My Little Pony, Barbie, and American Girl Dolls.  Ten years, they just flew by.  As I reflect on these stages of infancy and young childhood that I will never experience with you again, I want you to know a few things and keep them in your mind as you get older:
Stay Kind – Kindness is everything.  You really do need to treat people how you would like to be treated.  As you make fun of someone for the outfit they are wearing (and you will), remember that they are owning their style just like you own yours.  Remember they are human too and no one deserves to be made fun of.  Being kind opens up doors to future opportunities.  No one wants to hire a rude person.
Be Your Unique Self – You will fall into peer pressure.  I have not noticed anyone who hasn’t at one point in time.  Please remember that you are the only you there will ever be.  Exploit that.  Show your style and your personality.  Your friends like you because of who you are.  If they are asking you to change or to do something you don’t want to do and threaten your friendship because of it, then they were never your friends to begin with.  
Hold On To Your Imagination – Tether this one to your heart.  As we age and become adults, our imaginations tend to dwindle.  When I was younger, I was an avid story and poetry writer.  Then adulthood kicked in… work, bills, getting married, having a child… I lost a piece of me.  I lost my imagination.  It took falling into a black abyss of depression and anxiety to get that back and at this age, it isn’t nearly as strong as it was.  Crazy glue your creativeness to yourself.  Don’t ever lose that.  It is what makes life interesting.
Keep Dreaming – Always aim to achieve your dreams and goals.  It may not be a quick process but never decide to let go.  You have seen me achieve my dream of becoming a published writer with being a contributor to two published collections.  You see me currently writing my own book… a book that has been in the process for years but I am not giving up.  Do not let others tell you to quit dreaming.  They are not living within you.  You are capable of anything you put your mind to.
Challenge Yourself – Do not take the easy way out on everything you do.  Strive to be as good as you can be.  Try to read those novels in high school and bypass the Cliff Notes, you will be surprised at all that is in the actual novel.  You do not need to strive to be valedictorian, just try to be the best YOU can be.  Challenge yourself by drawing more, writing more, reading just one more page.  You won’t regret it.
Loyalty Is A Blessing And A Curse – Always try to remain loyal to your friends and family, the ones that have your back, the ones that love you “to infinity and beyond”.  Loyalty is a tremendous gift but, it can backfire on you.  Just be aware.  You may put out way more than you will receive in certain relationships. 

 
Remember Empathy – Empaths are rare.  To truly be empathetic to a person is to “walk in their shoes”.  Everyone is going through something.  It could be a physical illness such as cancer, a mental illness  such as depression, neglect, prejudice, etc.  No one, I mean, no one’s life is easy even if it seems like it.  I am glad that I passed on this gift of empathy to you.  Keep using it in all situations, but try hard to not let it stick with you for long periods of time.  Once you feel empathy for a person or a group of people, acknowledge it, digest it, and then do not dwell on it.  It can take over your mind and cause you depression and grief.

Not All Friendships Last – Friendships can end due to many reasons.  Sometimes you may have said or done something and sometimes a friend may have offended you.  Honestly, most friendships that end is just from the simple fact that friends can grow apart.  Schedules get busy. Common things get sparse.  It happens, and baby, it hurts.  There will be a grieving process to mourn the end of a friendship.  You’ll go through the stages of denial, disbelief, depression… and eventually, acceptance.  What’s important is to realize that they were in your life for a reason.  It may have been the extra shoulder you needed, or the ear you lent them.  Understand that although you feel like it ended because of you, it most likely didn’t. With these friendship deaths, there are strengths.  Friends you’ve had for years, decades, who are there for you. Friends you may not see or speak to often but when you do, it’s like you were never apart. Hold on to them.
Common Sense Is Just As Important As Book Smarts – Always aim to be the best student you can be but that is in two fields in life, school, and common sense.  Listen to your instincts.  Sometimes common sense matters more than what you may have learned in class.
Love Unconditionally – Always let love in.  It can be in the form of your father and I loving you, you loving your friends and them loving you back, finding your future spouse, love for your future children and love for a pet.  If you have every really processed movies, you will realize love conquers all and it does.  Love is what saved Harry from Voldemort.  Love is what let Anna and Elsa take back their kingdom.  Love is what brings Darth Vader back from the Dark Side to the Jedis.  Love is what makes us live and want to live.  There is always someone out there that loves you.
I know I have told you most of these things before, but I want you to understand all of them.  You are getting to a point in your life where you will not listen to me anymore (or at least for a few years).  You will think you know everything and Mommy and Daddy know nothing.  I have been there.  Your father has been there too.  But you know what?  After those years of being “above all” you will come to treasure everything your parents told you.  You will read this letter and know exactly where Mommy was coming from.  Please process these now and keep them with you.  Know that I see you, I see the strong, silly, sassy, smart girl you are.  I see your beauty, inside and out.  I can see what you are capable of.
You are a beautiful and unique young lady.  You are you.
Love, Mommy